Sri Lanka’s journey towards a brighter future: Reflections from outgoing World Bank Group country management

Tuesday, 9 July 2024 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 Sri Lanka’s true potential for transformative change lies in its human capital—the perseverance and unbreakable spirit of the Sri Lankan people

Outgoing World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, World Bank Country Manager for Maldives and Sri Lanka, and International Finance Corporation Country Manager for Maldives and Sri Lanka speak about the highlights of their tenure in Colombo. They also share their thoughts on the opportunities for Sri Lanka and their parting wishes for the people and the country

As our tenures end as Country Director and Country Manager for the World Bank and Country Manager for the International Finance Corporation, we reflect on our time here in Sri Lanka with a sense of pride and gratitude. Our collective efforts at fostering inclusive, sustainable and resilient growth in the country, have both been challenging and rewarding, and it has been an honour to lead our talented teams in these endeavours.

Two of us joined our posts in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic which tested the resilience of the country and our own. We arrived in a country under lockdown, with no opportunity to meet our Government clients, partners, or our own staff in-person for several months. One of us joined amid Sri Lanka’s economic crisis in 2022, which also came with countless challenges.

However, one thing is certain. In both cases, we were met with a country poised for transformative change. Sri Lanka’s health system managed the COVID-19 pandemic better than most developed countries could, and the country has since been working tirelessly to turn the economic crisis into an opportunity for growth. 

Through it all, the World Bank Group has been a steady partner and ally for Sri Lanka.

From providing support to respond and prepare the health system during the pandemic, to repurposing funds to address the people’s most pressing needs—including cash transfers, medicines, liquid petroleum gas and fertiliser—during the economic crisis, and rallying Sri Lanka’s development partners to be better coordinated through the MDB+ platform, we moved quickly and efficiently to help protect the people of Sri Lanka, particularly the poor and vulnerable from the worst impacts of the crises. 

From modernising agriculture and preparing farmers to respond to climate change, to supporting the private sector with critical financing to help small businesses and sustain jobs, the World Bank Group continued in its stride, contributing to many facets of Sri Lanka’s development with the aim of improving the lives of Sri Lankan people.

But given the immense potential evident in Sri Lanka, the country can achieve so much more to secure a brighter future for its people. 

Drawing from our experience in the last four years, we see many opportunities ahead for Sri Lanka: 

1. Macroeconomic stability and continuity of policy direction as the cornerstone of growth. With a debt-to-GDP ratio that overshadows the economy, Sri Lanka must continue with its reform efforts to safeguard fiscal health and expedite growth to further reduce debt risks. A history of robust tax collection demonstrates the potential to rebuild fiscal stability, enabling investments in infrastructure and human capital. Over the past two years, Sri Lanka has undertaken painful but necessary reforms, and these have been instrumental in seeing the country out of its darkest hours. Continuity of reforms is critical to ensure that these gains are permanent and longstanding.

2. Safeguarding the poor and vulnerable remain paramount. The Government’s strides in social assistance, particularly the Aswesuma program, are commendable and represent a new beginning in the country’s social protection system. Yet, challenges persist, and a focus on inclusive support, especially for women, is vital for equitable growth.

3. Private sector job creation through investment and trade is essential. Emulating East Asia’s economic playbook, Sri Lanka can liberalise trade, incentivise exports, and integrate into global value chains. This could unleash a $ 10 billion export potential, spurring job creation and sustainable growth. Achieving poverty reduction and sustainable, inclusive development are possible only with private sector investments.

4. Reforms in energy and agriculture sectors are critical for a resilient recovery. Investing in the country’s future in renewable energy and the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices can enhance productivity and sustainability.

5. Governance and anti-corruption measures are key to building trust and efficiency. Modernising public institutions and embracing digital solutions can streamline services, enhance transparency and fortify the fight against corruption.

Despite commendable progress in economic stabilisation over the last two years, the journey ahead for Sri Lanka will not be smooth and easy. With elections in the horizon, we are hopeful that the people of Sri Lanka will continue to choose the path that leads to a country with better prospects, better development outcomes, promise and hope for a younger generation who will willingly stay and return to the country to advance its progress and secure its future.

Sri Lanka’s true potential for transformative change lies in its human capital—the perseverance and unbreakable spirit of the Sri Lankan people. From women leaders breaking barriers, to farmers and healthcare professionals working across the country, to young people calling for transparency and accountability from their leaders, their resilience is the bedrock upon which Sri Lanka can build a prosperous tomorrow.

As we bid farewell, we carry with us the stories of Sri Lanka’s resilience and resolve. Rest assured, that the World Bank Group will, as always, remain committed to the people of Sri Lanka and to their path from crisis to opportunity and sustained growth. 

We extend our deepest gratitude to our staff for their valued commitment and efforts, and to our partners for their support and collaboration. Together, we have laid a foundation for Sri Lanka’s stability and growth – paving the way towards a brighter, more inclusive future.

It has been a privilege to serve alongside you. !

Thank you, Sri Lanka!

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